Indiana Gov. Mike Pence is defending his decision to sign a bill that aims to protect religious liberties, but it has sparked an intense backlash from opponents who fear it opens the door for discrimination — particularly against gays and lesbians.
In a Wall Street Journal op-ed, Mr. Pence said the law he signed Thursday has been “grossly misconstrue ‘as a license to discriminate.’ “
“I want to make clear to Hoosiers and every American that despite what critics and many in the national media have asserted, the law is not a ‘license to discriminate,’ either in Indiana or elsewhere,” Mr. Pence said. “I abhor discrimination. I believe in the Golden Rule that you should ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’ If I saw a restaurant owner refuse to serve a gay couple, I wouldn’t eat there anymore.”
The Religious Freedom Restoration Act bars state or local governments from putting a “substantial burden” on the ability of people, business and associations to abide by their religious beliefs.
Mr. Pence has come under heavy fire for signing the law — including from the Indianapolis Star, which on Tuesday ran a full, front-page, editorial calling on Mr. Pence and state legislature to “Fix This Now.”
“Only bold action — action that sends an unmistakable message to the world that our state will not tolerate discrimination against any of its citizens — will be enough to reverse the damage,” the newspaper’s editorial board argued. “Gov. Mike Pence and the General Assembly need to enact a state law to prohibit discrimination in employment, housing, education, public accommodations on the basis of a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.”
Mr. Pence, in his editorial, tried to address concerns, saying the law “only provides a mechanism to address claims, not a license for private parties to deny services.”
“Even a claim involving private individuals under RFRA must show that one’s religious beliefs were ‘substantially burdened’ and not in service to a broader government interest — which preventing discrimination certainly is,” Mr. Pence said. “The government has the explicit power under the law to step in and defend such interests.”
High-profile conservatives, including Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who recently announced he is running for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination, have rallied to Mr. Pence’s side.
“I want to commend Governor Mike Pence for his support of religious freedom, especially in the face of fierce opposition,” Mr Cruz said in a statement.
“There was a time, not too long ago, when defending religious liberty enjoyed strong bipartisan support,” Mr. Cruz said. “Alas, today we are facing a concerted assault on the First Amendment, on the right of every American to seek out and worship God according to the dictates of his or her conscience.”